A skein of Caravan
Caravan knit up
click each image to enlarge
Yarn Profile:
Just Our Yarn Caravan

First Impressions
I first laid eyes on this yarn at the 2006 Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival—and I've been hoarding it ever since. While the crowds were quickly stripping Koigu and The Fold of all their yarns, I was quietly delighting in my own discovery: the exquisite hand-dyed colors and rare softness of this yarn from Just Our Yarn.

On the skein, Caravan looks and feels like a very good sturdy Shetland—perhaps Alice Starmore Hebridean 2-Ply, Jamieson's Shetland DK, or the yarn in Hanne Falkenberg's kits. It even has the jumbled woollen spin, delicate heathered colors, and dreamy lanolin fragrance.

But Caravan has a secret ingredient that lies dormant until you wash and wear your garment. That ingredient, my friends, is camel down. And it singlehandedly elevates this yarn from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Knitting Up
After almost eight months of anticipation, I gently pulled off the label, untied the ties, and wound my hank into a ball by hand. I like to wind my yarn by hand because it gives me a chance to get to know a yarn better before I even begin swatching it. I would definitely recommend you put the hank on a swift before unwinding it, even if you wind your balls by hand—the fine loose ends of fiber tend to stick to one another and may cause problems otherwise.

Using a sharp-tipped pair of Knit Picks Options needles, I cast on. Even the stitches in that first cast-on row were a pleasure. Steady and compact, they clung confidently to one needle while allowing themselves to be worked and manipulated by the other.

Perhaps it was the extra-sharp tip on the Knit Picks needles, perhaps it was my bliss-induced state of distraction, but I wasn't entirely able to knit by touch alone. My needles snagged the yarn just a few times, but more often the fibers held onto one another in a way that made make me think I'd snagged something.

The good news is that this yarn is so lovely and obedient that it's a pleasure to watch your stitches unfold. I found myself not wanting to look away for fear I'd miss something.

Blocking / Washing
Caravan takes the concept of "bloom" to entirely new heights because of its perfect blending of lofty wool with 35% camel down. After the rough guard hairs have been removed, this warm undercoat of the two-humped Bactrian camel is extremely airy and lightweight, with the potential softness of a quality merino and the overall behavior of cashmere.

On the label, Caravan's wash instructions simply say "hand wash cool, lay flat to dry." And that's fine. But Just Our Yarn handed out separate, more extensive washing instructions at the festival that I've listed in the column at right. To experience this yarn to its fullest, follow those instructions word for word.

The minute my swatches hit their warm soapy bath, I could feel them relax and soften. Camel down doesn't felt very readily, so I felt safe giving the swatches a healthy dose of to-and-fro swishing in their bath. They released a small amount of pinkish orange color that rinsed clear on the first try.

I could feel the transformation even before I pulled my swatches from their rinse. They had become delicate, fluid pieces of fabric. They blotted dry easily and required no blocking. At the appropriate moment I put them in the dryer for the prescribed period of time ("no heat!" was my mantra), and finally took them out to admire. To say "they got fluffy" doesn't quite describe it, so here's a picture.

I do have a note on gauge, however: While my unwashed swatches knit up to 6.5 stitches per inch, the final swatches—with dryer treatment—had expanded to an even 6 stitches per inch. If you plan on using Caravan for any item where precise fit is vital, I urge you to knit and wash a swatch first.

On the skein, Caravan might quickly be dismissed as too rough for next-to-skin wear. But the washed and worn results are comparable to felted merino, cashmere, or even an angora blend.

The more wear my swatches endured, the more they bloomed and softened. In fact, I found myself pondering just how much yarn would be required for a set of sheets. (Anyone up to the challenge?)

After quite a sustained period of friction (and blooming), the swatches began to pill. At first the pills were vaguely noticeable, but they grew steadier across the fabric surface. Such pilling is inevitable with this kind of woollen-spun yarn, and frankly I was impressed that Caravan lasted as long as it did.

Perhaps the most amazing part about this yarn is how reasonably priced it is. A 300-yard skein costs only $15—and you can do a lot with just one skein. Perhaps a special pair of socks for around the house, or a fine plush scarf, or a hat and pair of mittens? Or you could go wild and get four skeins for a gorgeous Faroese-shaped lace shawl (at $60).

The hand-painted colors gracefully shift from hue to hue without any loud or awkward transitions, making the yarn entirely suited for all sorts of things. But its fuzzy surface will conceal more elaborate cables and stitchwork, so I'd stick with simple stockinette, garter stitch, and lace.

And now, here's the catch: Just Our Yarn is a two-woman business. Diane and Cathie aren't set up to sell wholesale, they don't repeat their colorways, and they aren't yet equipped to handle huge volumes of online orders.

They maintain a busy festival schedule, including Stitches West and Stitches East, the Maryland and Massachusetts Sheep and Wool festivals, the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival, and several other events across the country. And for the devout online-only shoppers, they are planning a mid-February relaunch of their Web site that will include online ordering.

So, in exchange for sharing my secret yarn find with you, I ask that you please tread gently with these folks and be patient. Trust me, the rewards will be well worth it.


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